To battle the coronavirus outbreak, a nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25, with relaxations since June 1 when the first phase of unlocking began. This helped buy time to create the necessary health care facilities for the emergency situation. Ensuring business continuity became critical as the lockdown severely disrupted business and economic activities.
The government took quick decisions to cushion the shock by providing regulatory relief, additional credit and supportive measures for poor households. Many industry suggestions for business continuity from CII were addressed in the policy announcements. At the same time, to deal with the impact of the lockdown, Indian firms changed their business models significantly.
The first order of the day was to ensure the safety and health of employees. CII brought out operating protocols for different sectors, and businesses put in stringent procedures overnight. Secondly, health care products such as masks, PPEs and ventilators were the immediate requirement. CII put together a coalition of member companies and partners to fast-track production, which helped to quickly create new capacity. It was notable that while the market for ventilators numbered 8,500 in 2019, by July, production had been ramped up to 50,000, with most components sourced in India.
Enterprises that had to defer their physical operations with social distancing becoming a norm shifted their operations online and implemented work from home (WFH), wherever possible. The transition to the WFH model, in fact, yielded positive results, as this ensured business continuity in a cost-effective manner, improving quality and productivity for most organisations.
As the lockdown was relaxed, organisations instituted precautionary measures to ensure safety at workplaces. These included, among others, sanitising workplaces at regular and frequent intervals, staggered work shifts, ensuring physical distance between workstations and limiting visits of clients and customers. Arranging transport and provision of housing facilities, wherever possible, were also undertaken by many business enterprises.
Sensitising employees on Covid-19 and its spread through awareness sessions, and encouraging hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing, use of hand sanitisers and wearing face masks continue to be carried out. Apart from instituting health and safety measures in their own premises, many companies also formed medical task forces to assist medical preparedness of hospitals, in terms of quarantine centres, isolation wards, doctor training and medical logistics.
Innovative health apps and thermal screening devices promoted safety in workplaces by enabling health check-ups and regular monitoring of employees. Digital technology also helped in the delivery of goods and services and provided a major boost to e-commerce businesses.
Interestingly, companies also came forward in large numbers to support their communities during this trying period. They provided medical and food kits, as well as cooked food to distressed sections of society. Several companies even imported equipment for free distribution. CII converged efforts and helped reach out to 80 lakh beneficiaries in various ways.
With a focus on digital technology and innovations, the Indian industry has risen to the many challenges brought about by the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown.
Uday Kotak is managing director & CEO, Kotak Mahindra Bank, and president, CII